Author E.L. James laughs while signing books for fans at Comic-Con in San… (Kirk McKoy )
Who would have guessed that an erotica series would becoming the biggest book juggernaut since "Harry Potter"?
That's what things are looking like. This week, E.L. James' "50 Shades of Grey" and its sequels, "Fifty Shades Darker" and "Fifty Shades Freed" are poised to cross the 20 million mark in U.S. sales. As of July 2, publisher Vintage had tallied sales of the series at 19.4 million. Vintage brought the series to shelves in April; originally published by a small press in Australia, the book had already become an underground hit. The Wall Street Journal reports on the book's massive popularity:
"By comparison, Stieg Larsson's best-selling "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy took more than three years to reach the 20-million sales mark in the U.S. Those three books were released in the U.S. in 2008, 2009 and 2010."
"In the U.S., sales have been split nearly evenly between physical and digital versions, with 9.8 million paperbacks sold through July 2, compared with 9.6 million e-books during the same period, Vintage says."
"50 Shades of Grey" tells the story of virginal college student Anastasia and Christian Grey, the billionaire entrepreneur who takes an interest in her. They soon develop a sexual relationship that gets kinky -- the bondage-y content is part of what has been keeping sales hot. Vintage says the series has brought in $145 million in revenue.
Nielsen's BookScan numbers show that in the spring, the "50 Shades of Grey" series accounted for 20% of adult fiction sold (that's print books, not e-books). BookScan tracks about 75% of the retail American book market, and it misses a lot of independent bookstores -- where, presumably, people may be reading headier stuff than the sexually explicit series. However, the "50 Shades" series has been at the No. 1, 2, and 3 spots on our paperback bestsellers list, which includes local independents, since its publication in April.
Film rights were sold to Universal and Focus Features, which will have to figure out how to make the explicit text -- which some have called "mommy porn" -- suitable for American viewing audiences.